By Harriet Webb
Mouth-watering steaks and crisp red wines are probably the first things that spring to mind when one is asked to imagine Argentina. And while there is no denying that the country has, to use a French expression, the crème de la crème of both delicacies, there are plenty of other culinary delights that are less well-known, but just as delicious.
Recipes for empanadas date back to the 16th Century and these tasty stuffed pastries are thought to have originated from the Indian samosas. The name empanada comes from the Spanish verb empañar, which means “to bread.” So empanada, roughly translates: “to wrap in bread.” Nowadays, rather than bread, various delicious fillings such as ham and cheese, mozzarella and basil, and meat are enclosed in a pastry shell and served piping hot from street stalls, bakeries and restaurants across Argentina.
In the streets, at the office, at home, even on the Subte…there is no denying that mate is a key component in Argentines’ way of life. This high caffeine, herb drink keeps them going all day and into the night; how else would they stay awake until the boliches (nightclubs) open at 2am?! Mate is a type of tea, made from the plant yerba, which is grown in the subtropical forests of Latin America. Indigenous people believed that the drink had mystical properties. Nowadays, mate still has a ritual quality; large flasks are used to top up the gourd (cup) and each person takes it in turns to sip up the delicious tea through a metal straw. Be warned: the bitter taste might take some getting used to!
Wine making has existed for centuries in Argentina, however, in the late 19th and 20th Centuries Spanish and Italian immigrants brought new vines and knowledge to South America. The Andes Mountains provide the perfect climate for vineyards, and today Argentina’s wine industry is booming. Malbec, with its velvety texture, fruity aroma and intense colour took its place as the country’s signature wine and has struck up the perfect partnership with a succulent steak (more on that later). Even better, a decent bottle can be picked up for as little as $60 (about 4 USD).
Ahh facturas. How delicious you are but how bad for the waistline. The walk to work will become a daily struggle as you desperately try to keep you eyes straight ahead and not get distracted by the panaderia’s (bakeries) window displays that are lined with delicious baked pastries. Collectively known as facturas, they come in all shapes and sizes, as well as fillings and are finished off with a dusting of sugar. This leads nicely on to…
Dulce de Leche
This sweet, thick, caramel sauce is traditionally made by simmering a pot of milk and sugar over a stove for several hours. Thankfully, it can now be bought in almost every food shop, and supermarkets have aisles literally dedicated to the sugary spread. Argentines eat dulce de leche with almost everything: from pancakes and toast to cakes and desserts. According to tradition, dulce de leche originated from a 19th century cooking accident in the Buenos Aires Presidential House. The maid of Juan Manuel Rosas, who was President at the time, had left sugar and milk simmering on the stove. When she returned a while later, the mixture had transformed into a thick, brown consistency. From that point on, dulce de leche was born.
Asado encompasses the Argentine tradition of a barbeque – but it is a barbeque with a difference. There’s no gas involved, only fire heats the coal to the perfect temperature and cooking typically takes a couple of hours. A typical asado consists of various different cuts of meat, including choripan (spicy sausage in a bread roll), sweetbreads, morcilla (black pudding) and a larger cut of beef. Served on a large platter, usually with salad and chimichurri (a herb and olive oil sauce) an asado carries on well into the night or until you can eat no more!
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